LIBERALS’ SENATE BLACKMAIL DRIVING SCIENTISTS AND START-UPS OFFSHORE

Yet more evidence has emerged of the high cost of Christopher Pyne’s reckless attempt to blackmail the Senate by withholding research infrastructure funding if his $100,000 degree plan doesn’t pass.

At this afternoon’s hearing of the Senate committee inquiry into higher education, three National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) facilities confirmed that the Government’s recklessness is leading to a brain drain from Australian science.

The Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF) employs 94 people and supports a pipeline of basic and applied research that is creating high-skill jobs in a stream of start-up companies.

This includes the Nanopatch – a breakthrough method of administering vaccines through a nano-engineered skin patch, which eliminates the need for refrigeration. CEO, Rosie Hicks, told the Committee that if ANFF closes: “…23 new jobs will no longer be carried out within Australia and they’ll have to find a way to take that product to market overseas.” [Rosie Hicks, CEO, ANFF, 6 March 2015]

Without the promised funding, ANFF will start to shut down its facilities at the end of June, will have closed three-quarters of its capabilities by the end of September, and will be completely closed by the end of 2015.

The Australian Phenomics Network said it is already “starting to take a hit” from Christopher Pyne’s short-sighted and ill-considered approach, losing partner organisations that have: “… already dropped out. They’ve already suspended their services, waiting for news” [Dr Michael Dobbie, CEO, APN, 6 March 2015]

At the APN’s largest node, in Canberra, “this month, 18 [staff] will be given notice that their contracts will not be renewed at the end of June” [Dr Michael Dobbie, CEO, APN, 6 March 2015].

Professor Chris Goodnow told the Senate committee that his research activities at APN attracts nearly $2 million a year in funding from the United States National Institutes of Health, but that he may have to “move the Australian activities to Texas” unless NCRIS funding is secured [Chris Goodnow, Researcher, ANU, 6 March 2015].

The Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN) directly employs about 75 highly-skilled technical staff. By the end of March, TERN will not be able to renew its partnership contracts, and at the end of June, it will “have to go through some wind-down process pretty quickly”. [Professor Tim Clancy, Director, TERN, 6 March 2015]

These are just three of the 27 facilities Mr Pyne is threatening to close.

He is trying to intimidate the Senate, but those paying the price are the dedicated scientists and technicians whose livelihoods are at stake.

It is well past time for Mr Pyne to see sense and release the NCRIS funding for 2015-16 that is already in the Budget.


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